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Guest post: From Italy to Dublin through double censorship

Javier del Barco, a Senior Research Fellow at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) in Madrid, has just completed three months of work on Footprints collection in the Archbishop Marsh’s Library in Dublin. Below, Dr. del Barco shares just one example of some of the discoveries he made in the course of his work in Dublin. 

 

Hebrew books were subjected to censorship in Italy during the 16th and the 17th centuries. Censors’ signatures can be found in many books—both manuscript and printed—that circulated there, especially during the second half of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th. Interestingly, these censors’ footprints enable us to follow the itineraries of the books by indirectly providing clues of the places where they were censored. One good example is Marsh’s Library’s copy of Levi ben Gershom’s (1288-1344) Milḥamot ha-Shem printed in Riva di Trento in 1560 (1)

Books printed in Riva di Trento are particularly interesting and important because the Hebrew press run there by Jacob Marcaria operated for only four years (1558-1562) and produced some 35 titles. Marcaria, who was both dayyan (judge) and physician in Cremona, established the printing press in Riva in collaboration with Joseph ben Nathan Ottolenghi, the famous rabbi of Cremona, and under the auspices and protection of Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo, bishop of Trento. (2) In fact, Madruzzo’s coat-of-arms appears in some of the Riva di Trento Hebrew books, as is the case with this copy of Milḥamot ha-Shem (see title page, right).

Printing Milḥamot ha-Shem was a very important achievement. This text includes Levi ben Gershom’s major work containing an almost complete system of philosophy and theology in which he relied on his predecessors—such as Aristotle, Averroes, Avicenna and Maimonides—and also gave his own theory. The work had circulated widely in manuscript copies, but its 1560 publication was the first time that it was ever printed, even if imperfectly. No further editions of the work were printed for over three centuries, until a new edition was published in Leipzig in 1863, probably due to the fact that understanding Milḥamot ha-Shem is not possible unless one is familiar with Levi ben Gershom’s commentaries on Averroes and the Bible.

The copy in Marsh’s library was read and studied by an unknown Jewish reader, who annotated it in the margins using a semi-cursive handwritten Ashkenazi script (see image #2, left). Most noteworthy, at the end of the work we find the signatures of three different censors. In the last page, we read “Dominico Irosolomi.no”, “Aless.ro scipione 1597” (see image #3, below) and, in the previous page, “visto per me Gio domenico carretto 1618” (see image #4, below).

From this single book copy can learn much about not only the reading habits of Jews, but the censorship regime of the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church in Italy in the late sixteenth century.  The well-known Domenico Irosolimitano worked with Alessandro Scipione and Laurentius Franguellus, all of them apostates, in the Mantuan censorship commission from 1595 to 1597, the latter being replaced in 1597 by Luigi da Bologna. This commission was appointed by the bishop of Mantua and started to work in August 1595. As Popper states, “the Jews soon crowded to the building [of the Inquisition, where the commission worked] in great numbers, bringing their books with them, and carrying them away as soon as expurgated” (3). Even if Popper’s assessment should be considered with caution as far as the willingness of bringing books to the commission is concerned, it is a fact that Jews took their books to be censored in great numbers, probably in fear of the penalty for having uncensored books in their possession. After looking at the books and censoring them accordingly, censors would sign at the end of the book and add the date to their signatures, as Scipione did in this copy, but not Irosolimitano. This leads Popper to suggest that “Irosolimitano was probably at the head of the commission” (4) because “the chief censor often omitted even a date” (5). Thus Irosolimitano’s and Scipione’s signatures together and the latter’s addition of the date—1597—leaves no doubt that this copy of Milḥamot ha-Shem was under the scrutiny of the Mantuan commission in 1597.

Yet, bearing a censor’s signature did not free the book’s owner from the obligation of bringing the book to subsequent censorship commissions. This is the case with this copy, as attested by the signature of Giovanni Domenico Carretto dated to 1618, who worked censoring Hebrew books also in Mantua from 1617 to 1619 (Popper, 142). This footprint then situates this copy in Mantua still in 1618, where it had probably been since 1597 or earlier.

The book arrived in Dublin thanks to the collection activities of Archbishop Marsh (1638-1713).  Marsh began collecting Hebrew books upon his arrival in Oxford in the middle of the 17th century. By 1679 he had relocated to Dublin, having been appointed provost of Trinity college, but he continued to expand his collection until his death in 1713. In most of his Hebrew books he wrote his Greek motto in the title page, as can be seen also in the title page of this copy, and in some cases, he also added a date. When the indicated year predates 1679, we can be almost certain that he acquired the book in Oxford, but if no year is indicated, we cannot be sure of the place of acquisition. As this copy of Levi ben Gershon’s Milḥamot ha-Shem has no specific date after Marsh’s motto, it could have been acquired by Marsh at any moment during his adult life, either in England or in Ireland.

From Riva di Trento and Mantua to Dublin in Ireland, probably by way of England or Amsterdam, this book teaches us about significant cultural and social aspects to consider when looking at early modern Hebrew books. Printed in Riva di Trento by Jacob Marcaria in 1560 under the sponsorship of the bishop of Trento, this copy tells us about actual collaboration and exchange between Jews and Catholics in a cultural and intellectual endeavour such as printing books in Hebrew in Northern Italy. This was possible only before the Council of Trent was finished in 1563, as the consequences of Counter-Reformation largely affected relationships between Jews and Catholics. This can be observed very well in this book, as it was censored twice in Mantua, in 1597 and in 1618, following the establishment of censorship commissions. After that date, we don’t know exactly when and how the book reached the hands of Archbishop Marsh, journeying from Mantua to England or Ireland at some point during the 17th century, but this journey reflects very well how Hebrew books in general traveled together with their owners across all over Europe and the Mediterranean since the very start of Hebrew printing and throughout centuries, until they were definitively shelved in a library. For this copy of Levi ben Gershon’s Milḥamot ha-Shem, it was Marsh’s Library in Dublin, where it remains to this day.

(1) Shelfmark: B3.3.2

(2)R. Posner and I. Ta-Shma, The Hebrew Book: An Historical Survey (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975), chapter 5, subvoce “Riva.”

(3) W. Popper, The Censorship of Hebrew Books (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1969), p. 77

(4) Ibid., p. 78

(5) Ibid., p. 79

Announcing… the Year of INCUNABULA [AT] FOOTPRINTS

Consider this blog post part of a soft roll-out of a new concept here at Footprints HQ:  we are dubbing calendar year 2018 as the “Year of Incunabula.”  (If you read the last blog post from my colleague Michelle Chesner, you already know about some of our efforts in this direction.) Although we will continue to take in data on post-1500 imprints, we  have begun to focus our efforts on adding as many footprints of pre-1500 Hebrew printed books as we can between now and December 31, 2018.  (Stay tuned for the announcement–around this time next year–of 2019’s theme.)

In designing and launching Footprints, we explored many approaches to gathering data..  Some of our colleagues suggested focusing on a particular set of literary works and their editions and dissemination. (A wonderful model of this kind of research is The Archaeology of Reading at Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and University of London, with our advisory board member Anthony Grafton as one of the participants.)  Such a project–working from a limited corpus– allows great strides to be made in a limited amount of time.  Others suggested that we look at the output of a particular printer (we could have started by tracking down everything printed by Soncino) or the books printed in a particular city (Amsterdam in the 17th century).  Others suggested that we focus on the formation of particular collections.  

We heard these suggestions but resisted going this route as the project started.  Despite all of the potential in these options, we did not want to limit the scope of the project in the moments of its inception.   By looking at “Jewish” books (including books printed in Hebrew or other Jewish languages; books in non-Jewish languages on Jewish topics; and books owned by Jews regardless of content) printed in different places and times and their movement across time and place without limitations, we were able to explore the possibilities and limits of this new  kind of research project. In the iterative process of digital scholarship, we didn’t want to foreclose fruitful lines of discussion before we even got started.  And while this open approach has had some costs, the benefit can be seen in the architecture and flexibility of our database.  No doubt casting the net widely leads to some inefficiencies but other efficiencies are gained:  if we were focusing on production by Daniel Bomberg only, would it have made sense for me to sit in a rare book room and examine a Bomberg book carefully while ignoring the riches in a Soncino imprint bound with it?  If we were focusing on a set list of books and I found references to these in an estate inventory, should I put aside the books owned by a particular collector not on this list?

That open approach will continue  as we build the database, but we have decided for several reasons to make a special push on incunabula this year. Choosing to focus on incunabula benefits us the most right now for building Footprints in a more systematic way, and also enables researchers interested in who read, owned, bought and sold these books to acquire the most comprehensive view of this area of the history of the Hebrew book as possible. You could say, we want to begin again from the beginning.

Toward this end,  we are joining forces with the 15CBooktrade project led by Cristina Dondi of Oxford University, a long-time advisor to Footprints. Our colleagues at 15CBooktrade have started to see the finish line in collecting information about incunabula in an  ambitious and incredibly rich database, Material Evidence in Incunabula  (MEI). Thanks to a generous grant, 15CBooktrade/MEI will hire 3 dedicated researchers to work on Hebrew incunabula for six months in 2018.  One will be based in Oxford, focusing on collections in the UK and northern Europe; one in Jerusalem, focusing on Israeli collections; and one in Italy, focusing on the richness of Italian and some other European collections. These researchers will enter all of the copy-specific features of incunabula in their areas into MEI and also record the “footprints” into our database.  

Meanwhile, our goal is to cover the major collections of Hebrew incunabula in North America.  We’ll be focused on the rich collections in the New York area, Philadelphia, Boston, New Haven, Washington DC, Cincinnati, Ottawa, as well as smaller collections or single copies in Los Angeles, Chicago, Hartford, Providence,  Bloomington, IN, and Provo Utah. (I am heading to Chicago soon where I will see the three Hebrew incunabula at the Newberry Library.)  We are especially eager to hear from members of our trusted crowdsourcing community who would like to work on some of these collections.   We are also reaching out to private collectors and encouraging them to join the effort.

As we continue our work with book lists, estate inventories, auction catalogues, and scholarly articles looking for “historical copies” as well as working from extant books in rare book rooms, we will focus our efforts this year on the incunables. As we learn about early modern Jewish owners of non-Hebrew incunabula we will enter those as well. We have 3 first-year undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh eager to get to work in the spring term as part of the successful First Experiences in Research program run by Pitt’s Office of Undergraduate Research and we also intend to hire one research assistant who will input information from the rare book collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary.   We are also looking for interns in the cities mentioned above and faculty supervisors who are looking for hands-on research opportunities for their students.  

Does this mean we are abandoning the “big tent” approach to data collection?  Not at all: we remain committed to the idea that we want to ingest as many footprints as possible. We continue to work with partner libraries, downloading provenance data from catalogs and preparing them for upload to Footprints.  When we embed researchers to cover particular library collections (as we are doing now with the Marsh’s Library, Dublin)  we will ask them to look at the incunabula first but not to stop there! We continue to welcome contributions from crowd-sourcers and we are still happy to serve as a repository for datasets generated by independent research projects.  Surely we are always on the  lookout for other footprints as we hunt down the incunabula.   

We are not choosing  between a specific topic  and an open approach.  (But we are also not just saying “que sera sera” and leaving it at that.) Rather, we intend for the focused approach and the big tent model to co-exist; the focus on incunabula will enable us to concentrate on one area of Hebrew book history while maintaining our commitment to flexibility, which has  been the hallmark of our progress to date.  

As always, if you or your institution or your students want to join the fun, just let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Updates: Collaborations, incunabula and new opportunities

Footprints thrives on collaboration, and it is wonderful when we see how collaboration with others can yield positive fruits as well.

In September, Javier del Barco started work at the Archbishop Marsh’s Library in Dublin.  The Archbishop Marsh collected about 200 Hebrew and Yiddish books in his collection, many of which have interesting stories to tell, and the library has partnered with Footprints to catalog its Judaica, and record its provenance into Footprints  (Footprints will be added to the database at the completion of the project).  A few weeks ago, Professor del Barco found a previously unknown incunabulum (a book printed from the invention of moveable type to the year 1501) in the collection: a commentary of Nahmanides on the Bible from Lisbon, 1489, in excellent condition, as part of his work on the collection.

The subject of incunabula brings us to our next announcement: we are excited to announce our next partnership: with the 15cBOOKTRADE/Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI).  MEI collects similar data to Footprints, but with an emphasis only on books printed in the 15th century. We have partnered with them to collect data on Hebrew incunabula (a subset not easily accessible due to language and other limitations), which will be uploaded to both the MEI and the Footprints databases. To do this, MEI will be hiring three research associates: one in the United Kingdom, one in Italy, and one in Israel, to focus on studying the provenance of Hebrew incunabula in those places. We look forward to applications for this project!  Note that the deadline for applications is 31 October 2017.

As always, if you are interested in partnering with Footprints in any way: as an individual interested in entering Footprints; as an institution or a private collector with already cataloged materials that can be exported and uploaded to our database; as an institution or private collector with not-yet cataloged material that is interested in working with us on a cataloging/provenance project; or in any other way, please be in touch!  You can reach us at footprints@columbia.edu

How good is your early modern paleography?

Paleography, n.

  • The study of ancient writing and inscriptions; the science or art of deciphering and interpreting historical manuscripts and writing systems. (Oxford English Dictionary)

One of the challenges and joys of the work we do in Footprints is the huge variety of handwritings that we find in the books we encounter.  Owners of Jewish books spread from Afghanistan to Los Angeles, and beyond, and with owner inscriptions from the 15th to the 21st centuries, we have handwritings that run the gamut from clear and beautiful to downright messy.

In some cases, it is not the handwriting that is a problem, but the script or language in which the words are written.  A stamp in Polish, for instance, stumped a reader who was fluent in other languages.

Sometimes only part of a phrase can be read, like this inscription, where the owner discusses the importance of signing his name in the book, but did not clearly write his own name.

In all of these cases, the scholar entering the footprint added the words “Can you help?” to the Notes field of the footprint.  If you search the words “Can you help” (without quotation marks), you’ll receive around fifty footprints in the results, all of which proved difficult to decipher for the scholars entering their data.

So take a look!  Whether your specialty is a 19th century Suriname, 17th century Europe, or loopy Roman characters, there are plenty of opportunities to assist.

Updates! Export, partnerships, fellowship opportunity, and more…

We are pleased to report on the progress of Footprints since our last update.  The project has been growing steadily both in its technical and scholarly capabilities, and in its growing recognition in the world of Jewish studies and among practitioners of the Digital Humanities.

We invite you to check out the recent developments in the site by visiting the following link: https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/.  The site has undergone a number of changes since its launch last year, thanks to our talented developers at the Center for Teaching and Learning.  With our last update, we described the new capacity for batch upload, which allows us to enter hundreds of footprints with a single click.  Access to these materials is now bi-directional: libraries and librarians can now export ranges of Footprints data to augment their own copy-specific catalogs with information reconstructed by scholars who have uploaded material to our site in the course of their individual research. The export function will also allow researchers to use Footprints to produce datasets relevant to their specific research questions for further analysis.

Partnerships with libraries around the world have begun to yield results, and we look forward to adding data from many additional collections to the site. The Schneerson Collection at the State Library in Moscow is systematically adding provenance data from its collection, and a batch of data from Leo Baeck Institute in New York has been successfully uploaded. Within the next week,  data from the provenance-rich Shimeon Brisman Collection, now at the University of Washington in St. Louis, Missouri, will be added to the site. Another batch collection, of data culled from Christie’s and Kestenbaum’s Judaica auction catalogs by an undergraduate researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, will follow the Brisman data.

The site is now also increasingly easier to navigate. In an earlier stage, contributors to the site had to engage in a repetitive process of data entry; now the site migrates more data than before to populate shared fields with call numbers and permalinks to imprints and copies of books. Each new entry reduces the manual entry required of future contributors as the site stores and suggests titles, editions, and individuals involved in the historical transit of books.

Footprints now also features enhanced visualization tools.  Every individual footprint page is accompanied by notifications of “similar footprints,” inviting users to engage the web of people, places, and texts that the site brings together into a single field. We continue to hone the mapping functions, which will enable refined search parameters as site covers the map of Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and beyond.

We are very proud to partner with Marsh’s Library in Dublin and its Keeper, Jason McElligott, on a grant-funded project to catalog Marsh’s Judaica and enter their provenance into Footprints. The award will fund a three-month research fellowship for a librarian or scholar to produce a mutually beneficial work of copy-specific cataloging, which will be featured both in Marsh’s individual catalog and our own aggregated Footprints site. (Deadline to apply is March 1!) Marsh’s is an ideal partner in that its collection derives from the historical period covered by Footprints, and is sufficiently sized to produce a critical mass of results within a manageable body of data.

Our project grows in response to productive conversation with colleagues in the fields of Jewish studies and the Digital Humanities.  In February, co-director Joshua Teplitsky represented the Footprints project at an EAJS sponsored roundtable on the history of the Jewish book and digital humanities, hosted at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, coordinated by Andrea Schatz, Irene Zwiep, and Emile Schrijver. We have also been invited to demonstrate our project  at Radboud University, Nijmegen for the workshop of the “Digitizing Enlightenment” Project. Footprints will also be featured at a Celebration of Teaching and Learning sponsored by CTL on March 6.

As always, we welcome new collaborators, as well as feedback and questions.  You can always reach us at footprints@columbia.edu.

Guest Post: “Different Owners With a Common Tradition”

Many thanks to Eli Genauer for agreeing to write a blog post on one of his books represented in Footprints. The book discussed is a Bible – the last on the list of Bibles found in the database (click the + under the title of the book to see all Footprints for this and other books).

Our book was published in 1797 in Amsterdam by the Proops family, which printed books from the late 17th century to the mid 19th century. 106-541-607 (1)

This particular volume is Sefer Shemot of the Five Books of Moses.  It features a beautiful woodcut of Moses receiving the Torah, along with Moses and Aaron, and a rendering of the Holy Temple.106-541-607 (2)

There are three owners’ marks in this book,  described below.

The first clearly identified owner was Simon Mutsemaker (Amsterdam, 1766-1827) who boldly signed his name on the book’s front flyleaf.  We can assume he bought this volume as a part of a set of all five books of the Pentateuch, but only this one volume remains.  106-541-607 (3)

The next ownership stamp is not of an individual, but of an old age home in Amsterdam that housed a synagogue within it.

Around the edges of the circle, the stamp reads “Ohel Yitschok *Of Catharina En Isaac Joseph Fedder Stichting* ” (Ohel Yitzchok of the Catharine and Isaac Joseph Fedder Foundation).  This indicates that the book belonged to the synagogue which was part of the old aged home established in the name of Catherine and Isaac Joseph Fedder.  In the center of the stamp is the street on which the old age home was located, Weesperstraat, in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

We know a bit about this Amsterdam institution and about its founding benefactors:106-541-607 (4)

On October 18, 1829 Isaac Joseph Vedder was born on Rapenburgerstraat. He married Catherine De Groot in 1855. In 1874 the couple moved to Weesperstraat 41.

Isaac made a fortune in the diamond business, but continued to maintain a very frugal lifestyle. When Catharine died in 1890, Isaac established a foundation in both of their names whose goal was “to provide careful nursing, nutrition and care in the widest sense for men, whether healthy or sick”.  Additionally “the building should be decorated with a synagogue.”  Also included was the stipulation that there must always be at least 10 male residents of the home, so that there would always be a Minyan and services could be held.  “The men must be of impeccable good character, religious minded and confess the Ashkenazi Jewish religion .” [emphasis added]

The property next to Weesperstraat 41 , number 43 , was purchased and the old men’s house was made from these two addresses. The synagogue was on the first floor, on the left side of the building. It was a small synagogue, only 7.50 x 4.20 meters, but an impressive beauty. On the east side was an Aron Ha-Kodesh – the holy ark. On the other three sides were the seats, at most 30.

106-541-607 (5)During World War II, all the residents in the home were killed by the Nazis.  The building itself survived the early ravages of the war. However, in the winter of starvation (1944-45), precious wood was salvaged from the property to use for kindling. After the war the building had to be demolished.

So what happened to this precious book?

Aside from trying to physically destroy the Jewish people, the Nazis also systematically pillaged the treasures belonging to the Jewish community that bore witness to Jewish creativity and scholarship. Some of these treasures they planned to keep for themselves, but others were to be consigned to landfills or burned. After the war, there was a complex question of what to do with the surviving Jewish treasures, including many books, whose owner106-541-607 (6)s were no longer alive. A tremendous effort was made to find appropriate homes for the multitude of now-ownerless books that had been confiscated. Much of that work was performed by the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction project.  Among the many places these books were sent was the newly established State of Israel.

Although none of the residents of this home for aged men survived the war, their book did, and is a testimony to the home’s existence. Somehow, possibly through more informal means,  it found its way to Israel, to a place that may have seemed quite unfamiliar to those elderly Jews of Ashkenazic descent.

106-541-607 (7)The book’s next owner was the Beit Ha-kenesset shel tse’ire Teman, a synagogue and cultural center in Rehovot, Israel that (to this day) serves the Yemenite community and strives to keep the form of prayer and traditions of that ancient community alive.  Note the term “tse’ire,” which means “young people.”

There are, of course quite a few differences  between Simon Mutsemaker, Catharina and Isaac Joseph Vetter, and the elderly Ashkenazic residents of the old age home on Weesperstraat 41 on the one hand, and those “young people” who prayed at the Yemenite synagogue in Rehovot on the other. They looked different, their Nusah of prayer was different and many of their Minhagim were different. But this book that united them was more important than all of that. It was a book of the Torah, the Sefer Shemot, which all these people believed to be the defining part of their religious heritage.

Updates: Batches, Presentations, Conferences

We are pleased to announce many updates to Footprints website and to the project at large.  The database has been growing in leaps and bounds (about 700 Footprints at last count), with promising directions for further expansion. Our talented developers at Columbia’s Center for Teaching and Learning have completed a function for “batch upload” of provenance data to the site–the large scale uploading of material based on extant library catalogs.  We invite you check out the recent developments in the site by visiting the following link: https://footprints.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/.

We have shared the first fruits of this endeavor at international scholarly conferences, where the project was well-received.  We presented the project at last summer’s Association of Jewish Libraries meeting, the December meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies, and the January meeting of the American Historical Association, and we will be participating in this summer’s Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Bruges.  At these conferences, our work featured alongside other projects in the Digital Humanities, where we learned from their respective successes (and setbacks).

Footprints has garnered interest in the scholarly community, and generated opportunities for institutional collaboration.  We have recently uploaded records from Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and are working with the librarians at other institutions to replicate this process.  We are preparing hundreds more Footprints to add to the site for the batch upload, and we are constantly seeking more!  We are cultivating connections with other librarians around the world who have provenance data in their catalog records, with an eye towards our goal of reaching the critical mass of 10,000 footprints by summer 2017.  If you are interested in submitting your data as a batch, please contact us at footprints@columbia.edu for more information about batch specifications.

Footprints will achieve its goal of advancing the state of the field in Jewish Book History when it impacts the nature of research.  We are working on an event surrounding the 500th anniversary of  first publication of Daniel Bomberg (Rabbinic Bible, 1517), to coincide with the World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem next summer.

We look forward to sharing new developments with you as they continue to occur!

From the stacks of Spertus College Library, Part II

As described in a previous post, we were very fortunate to have Tali Winkler, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, work with the books in the library of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, entering Footprints from its storied collection.  Tali describes her experience further below (images courtesy Tali Winkler).

In my earlier post, I described the excitement of learning about people, both known and unknown, from marginalia in the books.  The second piece that stood out for me in my Footprints work was how we can learn about how books traveled from place to place. Sometimes it is even possible to identify multiple books belonging to the same collection, which had therefore been traveling together, perhaps for hundreds of years.

A pair of books in the Spertus collection illustrates the second exciting aspect of the Footprints enterprise. The first book is a collection of responsa authored by David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (c. 1479-1589), also known as the Radbaz, and published in Livorno, Italy in 1652. I was able to find four footprints for this book. The first inscription I was actually not able to decipher at all; the second I was able to decipher the name “Binyamin” (see image, left). imageThe third footprint was a stamp in purple ink indicating that the book had been owned by Rabbi Mendel Walman of Viroshov in Jerusalem, at some point in the 19th century. Finally, Spertus had acquired the book before the year 1970 (though I do not know specifically what year.)

About a month later, I encountered another book of responsa, Bet Yehudah, written by Judah ‘Ayash, a 17th century Algerian rabbi. The edition was also published in Livorno, in 1746. As I tried to decipher an inscription on the title page, I recognized the same “Binyamin” (see image below) from the responsa of the Radbaz, and excitedly realized that the title page also sported a stamp with the name of Rabbi Mendel Walman, albeit in blue ink. And finally, this book had also been acquired by Spertus before 1970.image

These two books, both books of responsa and both printed in Livorno, albeit about a century apart, had thus been traveling together since at least the 19th century, if not earlier, and had at least three owners in common!

These small discoveries I made over the summer were really exciting for me at the time, but the broader implications of this method are perhaps even more exciting. Using owner inscriptions, scholars can potentially track the travels of individual books, reveal interactions between individuals in the context of the exchange of books, and even recreate the libraries of various individuals throughout time.

Finally, one of the most fundamental elements of the Footprints project is its collaborative nature. I could not read the rest of Binyamin’s inscription, for example, but hopefully someone else, looking at the picture uploaded to the footprint record, will be able to figure it out. So please, dear reader, give it a try and see if you can help!

From the stacks of the Spertus Institute Library, Part I

Footprints is open and ready for entries!  This summer, we were very fortunate to have Tali Winkler, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, work with the books in the library of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, entering Footprints from its storied collection.  Tali describes her experience below (images courtesy Tali Winkler).

As a graduate student enthusiastically following the progress of Footprints since its inception, I was eager to participate in the process myself. This summer, I had the opportunity to work with the rare book collection of the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago, IL. The library has an extensive collection of Hebrew printed books, many of which contain handwritten treasures on the margins of their pages.

There are two aspects of this discovery process that I find most exciting, the first of which is described here.   (The second will be described in a later post.) The marginalia in an individual book can teach us an immense amount about the book, its owner(s), and how the book itself was used. Often we can identify an owner from other historical records, in which case it adds a new dimension to what we already knew. On the other hand, often the owner is not otherwise known or identifiable; utilizing this type of primary source thus allows us to hear the voices of those individuals that may not otherwise have been preserved.

A book titled Korban Netanel exemplifies this first exciting aspect of Footprints. The work was written by Nathaniel Weil (1687-1769), a scholar who worked in Prague as the head of a yeshiva and was eventually appointed as the Chief Rabbi of the city of Karlsruhe, Germany in 1750. He remained in this position until his death in 1769. The work is a commentary on Asher ben Yechiel’s writings. It was published for the first time in Karlsruhe in 1755; according to a note in the catalog record at Spertus, this was the first Hebrew book to be printed in the city of Karlsruhe.

An inscription on the title page of the copy owned by Spertus provides a brief window into the “life” of that specific copy of the edition. The inscription was signed by two individuals: Tiah (Jedidiah) Weil (1721-1805) and a Rabbi Eli. Tiah Weil was the son of Nathaniel Weil; he succeeded his father as Chief Rabbi of Karlsruhe after his father’s death, and he too served in that position until his own death. I have not been able to identify Rabbi Eli.

Tiah Weil wrote the majority of the inscription; in it, he explains that he was selling this copy to Rabbi Eli, rabbi of the city of Salzburg. He wrote the inscription while in Salzburg, and Rabbi Eli signed his own name beneath Tiah’s inscription.

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This short inscription captures a distinct historical moment of an interaction between two men, both leaders of Jewish communities in different cities. This moment encapsulates an exchange of scholarship, a physical object (i.e. the book), and presumably money or some other form of payment. It also reveals a great deal about the dissemination of books in this period; while conventional trade routes were presumably used as well, those involved in the printing of a work could take a more active personal role in the marketing of the book. Conceivably Tiah Weil travelled with copies of his father’s book, with the intention of selling them to scholars he encountered during his travels. Perhaps there are even other extant copies of the Korban Netanel with inscriptions written by Tiah documenting sales to other scholars he encountered in his travels in Europe, waiting for the next Footprints contributor find them!

When Isaac Newton is hiding in a library collection

Many of the owners’ marks traced in Footprints are of as-yet unknown people.  I don’t know, for instance, who “Hayyim ben Tsevi Hirsch” is, nor “Yaakov Tsevi ben Dovid Yoel,” but there might be a scholar doing research on either individual on the other side of the country who can positively identify him, or perhaps an additional owner for books owned by him!  This is exactly what happened with a book in the Columbia University Libraries.

Columbia’s printed Judaica collection is composed of many different books, each with their own story to tell.  Unfortunately, as of about year years ago, only about 1/3 of the printed Judaica were actually in the online catalog.  To rectify this, the Judaica librarian hired Hannah Vaitsblit, a Barnard student who has been carefully checking every Judaica book in the rare stacks to make sure that they are cataloged and thus accessible and known to any potential users.  One of the things that Hannah excelled at was marking instances of provenance, that is, notes indicating ownership of the book throughout its existence.  One of the books that Hannah found was a Latin copy of Josephus’s De Bello Judaica (Wars of the Jews), printed in Cologne in 1559.  Hannah indicated the presence of the bookplate shown here, noting the  “Philosophemur” Newton plateshield as well as the Case information below it as she entered the record for the book into CLIO.

The record was discovered by Newton scholar Professor Stephen Snobelen, who contacted Columbia asking for more information about the book.  He asked us if there was an indicator of “A3-21,” which was the classmark for this book in the Musgrave library (one of the libraries that owned Newton’s books).

A note on Professor Snobelen’s depth of research: Hannah had originally transcribed the last word in the text on the bottom of the plate as “Barusleer.”  Since Prof. Snobelen is well versed in the travels of Newton’s library (described further below), he asked if it was possible that the text read “Barnsley.”  A careful viewer can see that either reading is possible, but we know now that it was the latter.

After Isaac Newton’s death, John Huggins, his neighbor, purchased the library for £300.  (His bookplate can be seen peeking out underneath the “Philosophemur” plate.)  The collection went from Huggins to his son Charles, and from Charles Huggins to James Musgrave, whose bookplate is seen above, with the family motto, “Philosophemur.” The library remained in the Musgrave family for generations, moving with them in 1778 to Barnsley Park, Gloucestershire, where the new classmarks were added in ink (on the bottom of the plate).  The library was partially sold at auction in 1920, when it is likely that this book entered the market, ultimately ending up at Columbia in 1922.  You can see all of the Footprints for the Josephus here.

Other books from Newton’s library have been found at the Huntington Library (Mede’s Works), at the King’s College Library (interestingly, a Hebrew lexicon), at the University of Michigan‘s library, and at Cardiff University.

(Cross-posted with minor changes from the Jewish Studies @CUL blog)

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